Book Review: ONE GIANT LEAP by Ben Gartner

Author Ben Gartner has packed a galaxy of heart-pounding, sci-fi action into an unputdownable middle grade book that will capture the hearts and imagination of all ages. One Giant Leap is a book that 11-year-old me would have devoured in one sitting. I immediately connected with Fin Scott, loved the idea of the StellarKid Project, and was enthralled with every detail Gartner exquisitely incorporated into this thrilling story.

I’m pretty sure I’m about to die in space. And I just turned twelve and a half.

One Giant Leap by Ben Gartner

Fin Scott has won a place in the StellarKid Project and it’s an out-of-this-world opportunity! He’s blasting off to the International Space Station en route to the Gateway outpost that orbits the moon, but issues begin even before lift-off. When the team finally is in space, the unthinkable happens—a collision with space junk that immediately turns their epic journey into a race for survival. 

While my readers and social media followers may associate me more with mysteries and thrillers, I am also a science fiction fan and I especially love realistically space stories. One Giant Leap is exactly that, a space adventure story that feels completely real on every page. The research conducted for this book amazes me, I highly recommend reading the author’s notes at the end.

I am grateful to Ben Gartner for offering me an ARC of One Giant Leap and I can’t wait to get my hands on a print copy when the book releases on February 21, 2023.  Definitely add this middle grade book to your reading lists! 

Pop over to https://bengartner.com/ to read more about One Giant Leap and how to pre-order your copy today. Be sure to take a look at Ben Gartner’s The Eye of Ra series too, it’s a historical adventure through time that you don’t want to miss. 

Book Review: UNMASKED by Lorien Lawrence

I love the FRIGHT WATCH books by Lorien Lawrence! I pre-ordered my copy of UNMASKED (book 3) but then I held onto it, waiting to read it at the perfect time. That perfect time was on a flight to my family reunion. I read UNMASKED in one sitting and I was so into the story I couldn’t tell you a thing about anything that went on during that flight.

The third installment of the series more than lives up to the previous two–it’s frightfully fun filled with humor, heart, and scares perfect for a Halloween read (or any time of the year!) The story follows Marion, a talented creator of monster makeup and masks, who finds that one of her creations may be more than she intended. Marion is smart, funny, and very easy to relate to, especially for anyone who has or is dealing with any type of anxiety.

We get to spend time with Marion’s family (who I really liked as well), meet the boy she’s crushing on, and we get to connect with some of the Fright Watch series regulars. When Marion has to chase her creation down at the middle school Halloween dance, who else but Quinn and Mike of Goodie Lane are on hand to help. After all, they do have some experience with the supernatural and spooky.

UNMASKED was a joy to read, the perfect combination of scary and laugh-out-loud moments. You don’t need to read books one and two first, but I highly recommend both The Stitchers and The Collectors as well as UNMASKED.

Be sure to check out all of Lorien Lawrence’s books on her website at lorienlawrence.com.

Book Review: Fractured & Renewed by Natalie Cammaratta

Fractured & Renewed by Natalie Cammaratta

First: how gorgeous is this cover??? I love it!

Second, but equally important: this is how you complete a trilogy!

FRACTURED & RENEWED was everything I wanted as the third book of Natalie Cammaratta’s Falling & Uprising series: fast-paced, action-packed, and a total roller coaster ride of emotions.

As a personal rule, I don’t give out spoilers in any of my reviews, so I’m going to hold back on a critical event in this book, BUT, I have to say that there is a very specific relationship that made my heart happy — lots of swooning on my end as Natalie wrote each moment beautifully!

There is a LOT going on this book, but the intrigue, action, and relationship dynamics effortlessly blend for a thrill ride that doesn’t stop until the last page. On that note, I also have to say that the epilogue was perfect as well — I wanted to be there with everyone enjoying the special event and the lives that they’ve been able to build for themselves after such a tumultuous time.

If you love dystopian YA filled with espionage, action, romance, and fierce relationships, then you should definitely read all three books in the FALLING & UPRISING series.

Please go visit Natalie at her website: nataliecammarattabooks.com

I did receive my copy as an ARC from the author and I’m very grateful.

Book Review: The Library of Lost Things by Laura Taylor Namey

THE LIBRARY OF LOST THINGS took me by surprise. To be honest, YA contemporary isn’t usually my thing and I can’t remember who recommend this book to me — but if it was you, THANK YOU! It’s been on my TBR shelf for a while and I picked it up this week because I needed a diversion from the chaos of life. It more than worked. It sucked me in and wrapped me up like a warm, cozy blanket as I became more and more attached to Darcy, Marisol, and Asher.

There’s so much I loved about this book:

–chapter titles and cool quotations
–Peter Pan
–tons of literary references
–amazing best friendship (teen me would totally want to be their friend)
–MC works in a book store
–slow burn
–layers of emotion and just the right amount of highs and lows for me
–the uncertainty of the future at 18, but with the promise of adventure, love, and hope

Do I recommend THE LIBRARY OF LOST THINGS? Absolutely! And it’s definitely going into my reread rotation because I know I want to revisit Darcy, Marisol, and Asher. Go now and check out this book and the others by Laura Taylor Namey.

Book Review: The Wolf’s Howl by A. L. Tait

“. . . I feel myself exhale. For the next few hours, I will be Maven. Just Maven. I will not have to hide what I know or think. I will have the opportunity to speak when I want to and listen when I don’t.”

(The Wolf’s Howl by A. L. Tait)

Lady’s maid Maven and squire Reeve forged an unlikely friendship when they had to find a stolen jewel and discover who murdered an innocent man. Having solved those intertwined mysteries, they are together again, on the road with the newly married  Lady Cassandra and Sir Garrick, Knight Protector of Rennart Castle. This time they’re searching for a missing cook while unraveling secret codes, political alliances, and loyalties. With help from the mysterious Beech Circle, the duo may be able to save the cook and themselves.

I loved The Wolf’s Howl as much as I did The Fire Star (book one). I enjoy a good duology because it gives me more time to spend with characters I like and it offers a chance to see the characters continue to grow. Add in a mystery, a secret society, political intrigue, kidnappings, and you have a book that kept me turning pages. 

As a YA mystery from one of my favorite authors, The Wolf’s Howl goes on my shelf as one of my favorite reads of the summer. 

Here’s a quick break-down: 

  • Book two in the Maven and Reeve Mysteries
  • YA with two main characters, ages 15 and 16
  • Told in dual POV (which I loved!)
  • Medieval fantasy world setting 
  • Mystery that includes a missing cook, treason, a mysterious society, and kidnappings
  • Intricate plot with political intrigue and mortal danger
  • Themes relevant to today including the status of women 

I will always recommend reading a duology (or series) in order. It makes it easier to see (and enjoy) the characters’ development. I felt like I connected with Maven and Reeve in book one and that connection grew stronger in The Wolf’s Howl. Author A. L. Tait has a talent for creating complex, yet likable characters who are smart, brave, and loyal. However, they’re never perfect and that’s what I like best. 

In The Wolf’s Howl, Maven and Reeve have traveled with Lady Cassandra and Sir Garrick to the isolated Glawn Castle. The castle sits in a region where an ever-present howling, gusting wind sweeps through the landscape that’s dotted with windmills. When they arrive at Glawn Castle, they’re immediately thrown into a mystery. The cook has gone missing and a search party must be dispatched to find her. 

“There is more to Glawn that meets the eye.” (The Wolf’s Howl, page 81)

There also is more to Maven than meets the eye as well. She’s clever, capable, and a member of the Beech Circle. Being a young woman of intellect and drive, she’s in constant danger. Women like her are not acceptable. Reeve is an ambitious young squire with his own set of special skills. He respects Maven and is indebted to the Beech Circle. He’d never give away their secrets. Together, they are a formidable pair and have forged a deep bond of friendship. As I mentioned in my review for book one, I love that Maven and Reeve are friends instead of love interests. 

A quick recap of the Beech Circle because they play a prominent role in this story:

A group of girls and women who are connected. They help each other and those who need help. They are educated, self-reliant, and they’d be eliminated if their existence was discovered by the men who desire to keep all women complacent and silent. (from my review of book one)

If you love books with strong female characters, friendships built on trust and respect, and political intrigue amid a medieval setting, then grab a copy of The Wolf’s Howl by A.L. Tait.

Allison Tait (A.L. Tait) drew me in more than a decade ago when I found her website. I connected with her writing style, humor, and kindness and have been a fan of her books ever since. She is an internationally-published, bestselling author of two middle-grade adventure series and the YA Maven & Reeve mysteries. She’s a writer, teacher, speaker, and co-host of the Your Kid’s Next Read podcast. Allison lives in Australia and can be found on social media via links from her site.

You can find more information about author A.L. Tait at her website

I’d like to thank Kane Miller books and Allison Tait for sending me copies of The Fire Star and The Wolf’s Howl. My reviews and opinions are my own.

Book Review: The Fire Star by A.L. Tait

“But you are not witches?”

“No. Not unless witches are just women who choose to ask questions.”

(The Fire Star by A.L. Tait)

Maven, a lady’s maid, and Reeve, a knight’s squire, are thrown together by the theft of a priceless jewel. The unlikely duo has only three days to find the gem or both their futures will fall apart.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Fire Star! As my frequent readers know, I am a HUGE fan of mysteries, and I especially love a well-plotted YA mystery. And when the YA mystery comes from one of my favorite authors—it’s a major win-win for me!

So let’s talk about A.L. Tait’s young adult novel, The Fire Star. Here’s a quick break-down: 

  • YA with two main characters, ages 15 and 16
  • Told in dual POV (which I loved!)
  • Medieval fantasy world setting 
  • Mystery that includes a stolen gem and a murder
  • Intricate plot with intrigue and danger
  • Themes relevant to today including the status of women

It’s wonderful to escape into a far-away world and mingle with characters that are smart, articulate, compassionate, and relatable. A. L. Tait draws colorful and complex characters and then sets them in a richly drawn world—a kingdom in turmoil where the fight for what is right can take an individual to the brink of life or death.  

Maven is clever and capable with quick wit and strong drive. Unfortunately, in her world, a woman of intellect is simply not allowed. Women aren’t supposed to read, write, or think for themselves. Taught by her father, whose reputation and wealth has now depleted due to drink, Maven has lost her status and is now a lady’s maid and companion to Cassandra who is engaged to Sir Garrick, Knight Protector of Rennart Castle. 

Reeve is a new squire to Sir Garrick and desperate to prove himself worthy. Reeve is smart and capable, especially at reading people. But he simply wants to do his job and stay out of trouble as he fears failure will send him across the sea to a life of misery, or worse—death.

When Maven and Reeve meet, possibly one of my favorite meet-ups that I’ve read (it involves some goats), neither anticipate how important they will be to each other in the near future. It’s fun to watch their friendship develop across the pages as they learn to trust each other, working together to find the missing gem and discover who killed an innocent man. I found it refreshing to read a YA mystery that focused on friendship versus romance with the two main characters. The mystery was engaging, plotting tight, and the pacing perfect for the story. 

I can’t write this review without mentioning the Beech Circle, a group of girls and women who are connected. They help each other and those who need help. They are educated, self-reliant, and they’d be eliminated if their existence was discovered by the men who desire to keep all women complacent and silent. Without the Beech Circle, Maven and Reeve may never be able to solve the mystery and save multiple lives.  

The Fire Star is the first book in the Maven and Reeve mysteries and I most definitely recommend it to readers who enjoy strong female characters, friendships built on trust and respect, and intrigue amid a medieval setting. The second book is The Wolf’s Howl and I’ll be posting a review of that soon, so keep an eye out. 

I have been following Allison Tait (A.L. Tait) for more than a decade, having found her website online and was immediately drawn in by her writing style, humor, and kindness. I have been a fan of her books since I first read Race to the End of the World (Mapmaker Chronicles, book one). You can read my reviews of her other books, The Mapmaker Chronicles and the Ateban Cipher books. I highly recommend those as well. 

You can find more information about author A.L. Tait at her website. Allison is an internationally-published, bestselling author of two middle-grade adventure series and the YA Maven & Reeve mysteries. She’s a writer, teacher, speaker, and co-host of the Your Kid’s Next Read podcast. Allison lives in Australia and can be found on social media via links from her site.

Many thanks to Kane Miller EDC Publishing and Allison Tait for sending me copies of The Fire Star and The Wolf’s Howl. This review reflects my own opinions and thoughts.

Middle-Grade Reading: The Eye of Ra Series

I love stories with time travel, so when I saw a middle grade book featuring time-traveling siblings and their first adventure was to ancient Egypt, I was all in. 

In November 2020 I read the first book of the The Eye of Ra series (book one is the same title as the series) by Ben Gartner. I thoroughly enjoyed it! It was an action-packed, historical romp in time. Book two in the series is Sol Invictus and I had the opportunity to read an ARC in January 2021. It’s equally action-packed with even higher stakes. I loved the book, reading it in less than two days!

When Ben offered to send me an ARC of the third book in the series, I couldn’t say yes fast enough. I have reviews of the first two books up on Goodreads if you want to check them out. Below are my thoughts on the third book: People of the Sun.

People of the Sun by Ben Gartner whisked me away on a time-traveling adventure filled with humor, heart, and history. This story is book three in the “The Eye of Ra” series featuring a sister and brother duo who find themselves traveling back in time to help save the future.

Sarah and John have traveled back to the ancient Egyptian town of Saqqara via a cave portal in Colorado and to the ancient Roman town Aventicum via a portal at a museum in Washington D.C. People of the Sun opens with the siblings hiking in California with their aunt when an earthquake hits.

I love that author Gartner immediately hits the reader with action—the earthquake, the arrival of two mysterious older individuals, and a quick trip into the future. The roller coaster of time travel action kicks into high-gear for John and Sarah from here, as they’re assigned a mission to go back to the ancient Aztec civilization.

People of the Sun effectively wraps up the time travel saga that began in “The Eye of Ra” giving readers the final reveal about why and how the kids have been selected for these missions.

It’s a fun story!

Gartner balances heart-thumping action sequences with smart dialogue, vivid descriptions, and history lessons that never feel like actual lessons. I highly recommend People of the Sun and the full “The Eye of Ra” series for any middle grade reader and for the adults who enjoy well-crafted stories.

You can find more information about “The Eye of Ra” series on author Ben Gartner’s website. Go check it out and make sure to get your copies of these fantastic middle grade books.

Book Review: “Falling & Uprising” by Natalie Cammaratta

Plus insight into book two: SCATTERED & BREAKING

I love a good YA dystopian book, and FALLING & UPRISING, the debut novel from Natalie Cammaratta did not disappoint! Told in alternating POV, the story  follows socialite Serenity and marshal Bram as they navigate a society built on lies and the revolution that has been brewing for many years. 

Everyone in Kaycie knows that their city is the last dry haven for humans. Kaycians enjoy a life of prosperity, safety, and glamour. Serenity thinks she has it all, until she learns the truth. The Establishment has lied to its citizens.

Other islands exist, their main purpose being to provide goods and labor to the glittering city of Kaycie. There is a major imbalance and people from the islands are suffering. Young people taken from their families, their memories erased, and forced into zombie-like service as marshals in Kaycie. 

When Serenity learns the truth and is offered a chance to make a difference, she takes it—much to Bram’s surprise. He’s known the truth for a long time, having been born on one of the other islands and rescued by Sophos, Serenity’s mentor and one of the revolution’s key leaders.

FALLING & UPRISING has a nice balance of dystopia, sci-fi tech, and YA glamour. I found myself immersed in Cammaratta’s vivid details—I would love some of the fabulous clothing worn by Serenity and her best friend Vogue. The story moved well, and I never felt bogged down with techno-babble.

The connection between Serenity and Bram worked for me. I liked their prickly beginnings and enjoyed watching the two very different personalities find common ground and respect for each other. Serenity’s attraction and relationship with Jase, another member of their revolutionary team, had a few sizzling moments and it’ll be interesting to see what happens with those two in the next book. 

The reader is left hanging a bit at the end as there is another book coming. However, many threads are tied up nicely, but I found myself saying—WAIT! MORE! I wanted to continue reading and will be anxiously awaiting the next book!

And guess what? I got to read book two!

Scattered & Breaking by Natalie Cammaratta

I was thrilled when Natalie offered to send me an ARC of SCATTERED & BREAKING! Yes, I actually squealed and there may have been some bouncing/dancing about.

Here are some of my thoughts:

It sucked me in from page one! Seriously. I didn’t want to stop reading.

Being back with Bram, Serenity, Vogue, and friends was so much fun, but boy are they dealing with a LOT.

Book two picks up after the uprising and deals with the fallout, lies, and corruption that entangles each of the characters as well as their friends and family. The islands are splintered, the sea water has receded, and there is another enemy at the gates.

SCATTERED & BREAKING is a deep dive into this dystopian’s world’s political intrigue, twisted family dynamics, and the determined group fighting to make things right.

The book kept me turning pages, the action fast, but Natalie also gives the reader deliciously tender moments where we suck in a breath and just go “oh.”

It’s about relationships, the good, bad, and the very bad. But there also is hope. However, hold on when you’re reading SCATTERED & BREAKING because it’s a ride! And not everyone makes it out.

I’m am so ready for this story to continue!

Where To Find These Books:

To get a copy of FALLING & UPRISING and to preorder a copy of SCATTERED & BREAKING, please go visit author Natalie Cammaratta at her site: nataliecammarattabooks.com/books.

You can also add it to your Goodreads list.

SCATTERED & BREAKING releases on December 29, 2021.

You’ve got plenty of time to read FALLING & UPRISING first & then dive right into the SCATTERED & BREAKING. I highly recommend BOTH.

Reading: Looking Back at Books Read

I’ve always enjoyed book recommendations from other readers and writers. It’s fun to see what you’re reading, and it’s a great way to add new-to-me authors and books to my TBR. Last year, I logged in 59 books read over at Goodreads and you can see those books here: Barb’s 2020 Goodreads Challenge.

What I’m going to do is go back and pick a few of my favorite reads from last year, and post them here on the blog under Book Reviews. Up first is: SCRITCH SCRATCH by Lindsay Currie.

I read “Scritch Scratch” by Lindsay Currie in September 2020. Fantastic middle-grade ghost story!

The following review was written and posted to Goodreads on September 5, 2020.

I had been looking forward to reading SCRITCH SCRATCH by Lindsay Currie for months (I had my preorder in back in January) and I’m super excited to report that I loved this book every bit as much as I thought I would when I first read its blurb! I thoroughly enjoy a good spooky ghost story, and always have.

This is totally a book 11-year-old me would have devoured in one sitting (took adult me two because life/responsibilities) and then pre-teen me would have gone back at reread it a week later (I’m thinking I’ll do my reread in October on a dreary day while snuggled under a blankie & sipping some hot chocolate.)

[And did she actually reread it in October? Yes. Yes, she did, enjoying it just as much the second time.]

SCRITCH SCRATCH is set in my favorite city: Chicago! Author Currie gives a well-constructed story told from the POV of 12-year-old, budding scientist Claire who has a mom with a baking business, older brother who can be annoying, and a dad who’s obsessed with Chicago ghost stories. It’s her dad’s obsession and job as an author of historical ghost books and the operator of a ghost-themed Chicago bus tour that throws Claire into something that takes her out of her comfort zone. One night when helping her dad during the ghost-themed bus tour, Claire actually encounters a ghost.

When that ghost begins to haunt her at home and at school, she’s faced with a tough decision: tell her dad and suffer the world’s worst embarrassment when he makes a huge deal out of an actual ghost (something she does not want her classmates to know) or try to figure out why she’s being haunted by a little boy ghost dripping with water before the spooky stuff hurts her or her family.

There’s so much to like about SCRITCH SCRATCH–from the haunting scenes that took me straight back to my own kid fears of being alone in my room thinking I wasn’t actually alone to the family dynamics, on-point middle school anxieties and friendships, and Claire, a character that I genuinely liked and who kid-me would have loved to hang out with years ago.

Lindsay Currie has a distinctive writing style and I thoroughly enjoy her books. If you’ve not read her PECULIAR INCIDENT ON SHADY STREET, grab a copy. There’s even a nod to its ghost in SCRITCH SCRATCH. You can feel the love Currie has for Chicago and its rich history, in particular some of its forgotten history. I highly recommend SCRITCH SCRATCH for kids who love to read spooky stories and for adults too–totally a book that should be on the classroom fiction shelf and in the school library.

Book Review: “Amari and the Night Brothers” by B. B. Alston

book cover for Amari and the Night Brothers on e-reader

AMARI AND THE NIGHT BROTHERS by B. B. Alston officially ranks as one of my fav middlegrade books. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute I spent reading it and when I finished, I wanted more—so glad it’s the first book in a series. Its title is listed by HarperCollins as Amari and the Night Brothers: Supernatural Investigations: Volume Number 1. 

Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston

There was much to like about the book, so here’s a bit of the what’s-what:

Amari Peters isn’t from a posh neighborhood and is on scholarship to her private school, a place where she’s bullied. Her older brother Quinton has gone missing, and now she’s in trouble at school for standing up to the bullies. Things are a mess. But when she receives a strange briefcase from her missing brother and a nomination for a place in the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, Amari goes on the hunt for Quinton. 

At the Bureau, she’s enrolled in the summer tryouts for Junior Agent and learning all about the supernatural and magical world that’s filled with magicians, dragons, fairies, sasquatches, and even talking elevators with their own distinct personalities. She’ll compete for a spot in the program against kids who’ve grown up in this fantastical world, while dodging enemies, and learning who she can and can’t trust. Not everything or everyone is as they seem. 

Amari worries she won’t have what it takes to make it through the Junior Agent trials, stand up to the bullies in her training class, learn how to use her own magic, and find her missing brother. 

So why did I like the book so much?

As I’ve said in my social media posts, I think AMARI AND THE NIGHT BROTHERS is immersive, imaginative, and thoroughly engaging to read. I was drawn in from the opening pages and had to read more. Amari is a kid I would have loved to have had as a friend when I was a kid. She’s smart, brave, compassionate, and fun. 

The magical elements in the book were fun and unique. I particularly fell in love with the elevators and I love Amari’s roommate’s inventions, especially the sneakandle. 

I most definitely recommend reading AMARI AND THE NIGHT BROTHERS by B.B. Alston. You can read more about the book here.